,Malaysia, Nicaragua,adultery

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Turning Aspens and the Byzantine World of the Neocons

Slimy Creatures and their War

Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff "Scooter" Libby's trial for lying and obstructing justice in the CIA leak investigation brought out fascinating details of manipulation of media by the Bush Administration. One gets the impression that the journalists were often willing victims. They wanted fame and ready to pay the price for receiving tidbits from their "sources".

Judith Miller, who had played a role in promoting the non-existent WMD stories in NY Times, was on the stand yesterday. Howard Kurz in the Washington Post:

At a meeting in Libby's office in June 2003, Libby seemed "agitated and frustrated and angry," not to mention "annoyed," Miller said. He was concerned that the CIA, through a "perverted war of leaks," was distancing itself from its prewar intelligence about Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons.

So Libby would combat these leaks by leaking to Miller, she explained in a tone that indicated this was the most natural thing in the world. Miller said he told her that the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador who was challenging the administration's account that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium in Africa, worked for "the bureau" -- prompting Miller to put a question mark in her notes until she realized that Libby meant the CIA.

During a two-hour meal at the St. Regis hotel the following month, Miller said, Libby changed the ground rules and went "on deeper background," asking to be identified only as a "former Hill staffer."

Miller recalled that in a phone conversation from her home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., she told him she did not plan to write a story about Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, and "didn't think the New York Times was interested in pursuing it."

Why not? That has been one of the tale's lingering mysteries. Miller said she recommended to her boss, Jill Abramson, now the Times's managing editor, that the paper go after the Plame story, but "she seemed very distracted that day" and just said "mmm-hmm." Abramson has denied that Miller made such a recommendation.

They may have shared secrets, but Miller and Libby were not exactly friends. When she ran into Libby in the summer of 2003 in Jackson Hole, Wyo., she did not recognize him -- because, she said, he was wearing glasses, a cowboy hat and boots, a black T-shirt and jeans. But once she was incarcerated in 2005, Libby began to convince Miller that he would not hold her to her vow of secrecy. He wrote a poetic letter reminding her that "the aspens will already be turning" while she languished in jail.

After the Plame controversy blew up, Miller posted a letter on her Web site in response to a stinging piece by Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who said that Miller was not "credible" and had written "bogus" stories about nonexistent weapons. Recalling that yesterday, Miller said she told editors that "I did not think I had been a target" of a concerted White House leak campaign.

Miller turned hesitant under cross-examination, stumbling over her words and repeatedly gesturing with her right hand. She admitted that she had forgotten her June 2003 meeting with Libby until she found the missing notes of their conversation.

A frequent television guest, Miller got tripped up by one of her appearances. She stared at a monitor, transfixed and tight-lipped, as a program from last January showed her saying words that she had failed to fully recall a moment earlier: "It's really easy to forget details about a story you're not writing. . . . It was not important at the time."

The videotape provided another reminder of why reporters much prefer asking questions to answering them.

The day ended with legal wrangling about whether Miller could be asked to name other confidential sources. The issue, like the ambiguity of reporters' delicate dance with their informants, was not resolved.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Death of Staff Sgt. Hector Leija

"Any man's death diminishes me." -- John Donne

© NEWSWEEK.com Audio commentary by Glenn Kutler of Iraq Coalition Casualties

Staff Sgt.Hector Leija of Houston, TX, died in Baghdad on January 24th. He was 27. Heads of States give speeches, soldiers die. Nothing unusual about that. He is one among the 3081 who have lost their lives in the war that began in March 2003. Damien Cave's report about Sg. Leija's death made it very real, brought it close to home. But how many of us will think of Hector Leija a week from now? Sgt Leija will be remembered by his family and by his friends; the war will continue, others will die. Our warrior president might even have a surprise up his sleeve. His recent rhetoric is beginning to sound like prelude to another war.

NY Times
January 29, 2007

‘Man Down’: When One Bullet Alters Everything

BAGHDAD, Jan. 28 — Staff Sgt. Hector Leija scanned the kitchen, searching for illegal weapons. One wall away, in an apartment next door, a scared Shiite family huddled around a space heater, cradling an infant.

It was after 9 a.m. on Wednesday, on Haifa Street in central Baghdad, and the crack-crack of machine-gun fire had been rattling since dawn. More than a thousand American and Iraqi troops had come to this warren of high rises and hovels to disrupt the growing nest of Sunni and Shiite fighters battling for control of the area.

The joint military effort has been billed as the first step toward an Iraqi takeover of security. But this morning, in the two dark, third-floor apartments on Haifa Street, that promise seemed distant. What was close, and painfully real, was the cost of an escalating street fight that had trapped American soldiers and Iraqi bystanders between warring sects.

And as with so many days here, a bullet changed everything.

It started at 9:15 a.m.

“Help!” came the shout. “Man down.”

“Sergeant Leija got hit in the head,” yelled Specialist Evan Woollis, 25, his voice carrying into the apartment with the Iraqi family. The soldiers from the sergeant’s platoon, part of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, rushed from one apartment to the other.

In the narrow kitchen, a single bullet hole could be seen in a tinted glass window facing north.

The platoon’s leader, Sgt. First Class Marc Biletski, ordered his men to get down, away from every window, and to pull Sergeant Leija out of the kitchen and into the living room.

“O.K., everybody, let’s relax,” Sergeant Biletski said. But he was shaking from his shoulder to his hand.

Relaxing was just not possible. Fifteen feet of floor and a three-inch-high metal doorjamb stood between where Sergeant Leija fell and the living room, out of the line of fire. Gunshots popped in bursts, their source obscured by echoes off the concrete buildings.

“Don’t freak out on me, Doc,” Sergeant Biletski shouted to the platoon medic, Pfc. Aaron Barnum, who was frantically yanking at Sergeant Leija’s flak jacket to take the weight off his chest. “Don’t freak out.”

Two minutes later, three soldiers rushed to help, dragging the sergeant from the kitchen. A medevac team then rushed in and carried him to a Stryker armored vehicle outside, around 9:20. He moaned as they carried him down the stairs on a stretcher.

The men of the platoon remained in the living room, frozen in shock. They had a problem. Sergeant Leija’s helmet, flak jacket, gear and weapon, along with that of at least one other soldier, were still in the exposed area of the kitchen. They needed to be recovered. But how?

“We don’t know if there’s friendlies in that building,” said Sgt. Richard Coleman, referring to the concrete complex a few feet away from where Sergeant Leija had been shot. Sergeant Biletski, 39, decided to wait. He called for another unit to search and clear the building next door.

The additional unit needed time, and got lost. The men sat still. Sergeant B, as his soldiers called him, was near the wall farthest from the kitchen, out of sight from the room’s wide, shaded window. Sergeant Woollis, Private Barnum, Sergeant Coleman and Specialist Terry Wilson sat around him.

Together, alone, trapped in a dark room with the blood of their comrade on the floor, they tried to piece together what had happened. Maybe the sniper saw Sergeant Leija’s silhouette in the window and fired. Or maybe the shot was accidental, they said, fired from below by Iraqi Army soldiers who had been moving between the buildings.

Sergeant Woollis cited the available evidence — an entrance wound just below the helmet with an exit wound above. He said the shot must have been fired from the ground.

The Iraqis were not supposed to even be there yet. The plan had been for Sergeant Leija’s squad to work alongside an Iraqi Army unit all day. But after arriving late at the first building, the Iraqis jumped ahead, leaving the Americans and pushing north without searching dozens of apartments in the area.

The Iraqi soldiers below the kitchen window had once again skipped forward. An American officer later said the Iraqis were brave to push ahead toward the most intense gunfire.

But Sergeant Leija’s squad had no communication links with their Iraqi counterparts, and because it was an Iraqi operation — as senior officers repeatedly emphasized — the Americans could not order the Iraqis to get back in line. There was nothing they could do.

9:40 a.m.

An Iraqi soldier rushed in and then stopped, seemingly surprised by the Americans sitting around him. He stood in the middle of the darkened living room, inches away from bloody bandages on the carpet.

“Get away from the window!”

The soldiers yelled at their interpreter, a masked Iraqi whom they called Santana. Between their shouts and his urgent Arabic, the Iraqi soldier got the message. He slowly walked away.

A few minutes later it happened again. This time, the Iraqi lingered.

“What part of ‘sniper’ don’t you understand?” Sergeant Biletski yelled. The other soldiers cursed and called the Iraqis idiots. They were still not sure whether an Iraqi soldier was responsible for Sergeant Leija’s wound, but they said the last thing they wanted was another casualty. In a moment of emotion, Private Barnum said, “I won’t treat him if he’s hit.”

When the second Iraqi left, an airless silence returned. The dark left people alone to grieve. “You O.K.? ” Sergeant B asked each soldier. A few nods. A few yeses.

Private Barnum stood up, facing the kitchen, eager to bring back the gear left. One foot back, the other forward, he stood like a sprinter. “I can get that stuff, Sergeant,” he said. “I can get it.”

The building next door had still not been cleared by Americans. The answer was no.

“I can’t lose another man,” Sergeant B said. “If I did, I failed. I already failed once. I’m not going to fail again.”

The room went quiet. Faces turned away. “You didn’t fail, sir,” said one of the men, his voice disguised by the sound of fighting back tears. “You didn’t fail.”

9:55 a.m.

The piercing cry of an infant was easily identifiable, even as the gunfire outside intensified. It came from the apartment next door. The Iraqi Army had been there, too. In an interview before Sergeant Leija was shot, the three young Iraqis there said that their father had been taken by the soldiers.

“Someone from over there” — they pointed back away from Haifa Street, toward the rows of mud-brick slums — “told them we had weapons,” said a young man, who seemed to be about 18.

He was sitting on a couch. To his right, his older sister clutched an infant in a blanket; his younger sister, about 16, sat on the other side.

The young man said the family was Shiite. He said the supposed informants were Sunni Arabs who wanted their apartment.

The truth of his claim was impossible to verify, but it was far from the day’s only confounding tip. Earlier that morning, an Iraqi boy of about 8 ran up to Sergeant Leija. He wanted to tell the Americans about terrorists hiding in the slums behind the apartment buildings on Haifa Street’s eastern side.

Sergeant Leija, an easygoing 27-year-old from Raymondville, Tex., ignored him. He and some of his soldiers said it was impossible to know whether the boy had legitimate information or would lead them to an ambush.

That summed up intelligence in Iraq, they said: there is always the threat of being set up, for an attack or an Iraqi’s own agenda.

The Iraqi Army did not seem worried about such concerns, according to the family. The three young Iraqis said they were glad that the Americans had come. Maybe they could help find their father.

10:50 a.m.

Sergeant. Coleman tried using a mop to get the gear, and failed. It was too far away. With more than an hour elapsed since the attack, and after no signs of another shot through the kitchen window, Sergeant B agreed to let Private Barnum make a mad dash for the equipment.

Private Barnum waited for several minutes in the doorway, peeking around the corner, stalling. Then he dove forward, pushing himself up against the wall near the window to cut down the angle, pausing, then darting back to the camouflaged kit.

Crack — a single gunshot. Private Barnum looked back at the kitchen window, his eyes squeezed with fear. His pace quickened. He cleared the weapons’ chambers and tossed them to the living room. Then he threw the flak jackets and bolt cutters.

He picked up Sergeant Leija’s helmet, cradled it in his arms, then made the final dangerous move back to the living room, his fatigues indelibly stained with his friend’s blood. There were no cheers to greet him. It was a brave act borne of horror, and the men seemed eager to go.

As Private Barnum gingerly wrapped the helmet in a towel, it tipped and blood spilled out.

11:15 a.m.

Sergeant B sat down on a chair outside the two apartments and used the radio to find out if they would be heading back to base or moving forward. He was told to stay put until after an airstrike on a building 500 yards away.

The platoon, looking for cover, returned to the Iraqis’ apartment, where they found the family as they were before — on the couch, in the dark, around the heater.

Specialist Wilson continued the conversation he started before the gunshot two hours earlier. The young Iraqi man said again that the Iraqi Army had taken his father. “Will you come back to help?” he asked.

“We didn’t take him,” Specialist Wilson said. “The I.A. took him. If he didn’t do anything wrong, he should be back.”

The Iraqi family nodded, as if they had heard this before.

Speaking together — none of them gave their names — they said they had lived in the apartment for 16 years. Ten days ago, before the Americans arrived, Sunnis told them they would kill every Shiite in the building if they did not leave immediately. So they fled to a neighborhood in southern Baghdad where some Shiites had started to gather in abandoned homes. But again, a threat came: leave or die. So less than a week ago, the family returned to Haifa Street.

And now the airstrike was coming.

Sergeant B told the family that they should go into a back room for safety. He asked if they wanted to take the heater with them (they did not), and he reminded everyone to keep their mouths open to protect their inner ears against the airstrike’s shockwave.

A boom, then another even louder explosion hit, shaking dust from the walls. One of blasts came from a mortar shell that hit the building, the soldier said. The family stayed, but for the Americans, it was time to go.

12:30 p.m.

Over the next few hours, the platoon combined sprints across open alleyways with bouts of rest in empty makeshift homes. Under what sounded like constant gunfire, the soldiers moved behind the Iraqi soldiers, staying close.

At one point, the Iraqis detained a man who they said had videos of himself shooting American soldiers. The Iraqi soldiers slapped him in the head as they walked him past.

About an hour later, a sniper wounded two Iraqi soldiers who were mingling outside a squat apartment like teenagers at a 7-11. Private Barnum wrapped their wounds with American bandages. He and the rest of the platoon had been inside, taking cover.

“Stay away from the windows,” Sergeant B kept repeating. The point was clear: don’t let it happen again. Don’t fail.

4 p.m.

Downstairs in the lobby of a mostly abandoned high rise on Haifa Street, the sergeant and his men sat on the floor, exhausted. They were waiting for their Stryker to return so they could head back to base. In 14 hours, they had moved through a stretch of eight buildings on Haifa Street. They had been scheduled to clear 18.

Upstairs, Iraqi soldiers searched rooms and made themselves at home in empty apartments. Many were spacious, even luxurious, with elevators opening into wide hallways and grand living rooms splashed with afternoon sun.

Under Saddam Hussein, Haifa Street had been favored by Baath Party officials and wealthy foreigners. The current residents seemed to have fled in an instant; in one apartment, a full container of shaving cream was left in the bathroom. In that apartment’s living room, a band of Iraqi soldiers settled in, relaxing on blue upholstered couches and listening to a soccer game on a radio they found in a closet.

They looked comfortable, like they were waiting to be called to dinner.

Sergeant B and Specialist Woollis, meanwhile, talked about what they would eat when they got back to their homes in California. The consensus was chili dogs and burgers.

Sergeant B also said he missed his 13-year-old son, who was growing up without him, playing football, learning to become a man with an absentee father. After 17 years in the Army, he said, he was thinking that maybe his family had put up with enough.

“I don’t see how you can do this,” he said, “and not be damaged.”

A few hours later, the word came in: Sergeant Leija had died.


Sunday, January 28, 2007


San Francisco - A Look Back

Nick's Bar in "The Time of Your Life" * A Wide-eyed Immigrant in 1969 * Clea Bertani

Watching a video of the Broadway production of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life, I thought of the City -- the late Herb Caen's Baghdad by the Bay -- that I fell in love with.

In 1969, when I took the bus on weekday mornings from the old SP Depot at Third & Townsend, Third Street had a decrepit look. Pawn shops were prominent. If you walked on Third toward downtown, passing Brannan, Bryant, Harrison, Folsom, Howard, and Mission, you could not escape the smell of cheap liquor, urine, and unwashed bodies from groups of people who hung out at street corners. Those days some old timers referred to it as Frisco. That has become passé. Didn't sound right. To me it was always San Francisco.

Third Street today is very different. The City has changed, become gussied up. It looks prosperous, very expensive to live in. But it is a magical place with breathtaking views. Herb Caen wrote in one of his columns that "San Francisco has the charms of Sydney, the style of London, and the rascality of Paris". Don't know about Sydney. I have been to Paris and London. Nothing comes close to the feeling I get when returning home to the Bay area I look down upon San Francisco as the aircraft begins to descend.

The Time of Your Life (1976) TV,DVD
© Amazon.com

The scene of Saroyan's play, The Time of Your Life, is a bar (Nick's Bar) on Pacific; the time 1939. A gritty place patronized by a cast of characters that gave the feeling of quintessential San Franciscans. Something quite believable about Harry, the mysterious, wealthy man ably played by Brooks Baldwin. Patti LuPone as the "2-dollar whore" Kitty Duval, was just right. If the City still has a bar like Nick's, chances are that the man behind the counter would be close to Nick in The Time of Your Life. Benjamin Hendrickson was real as can be. Kevin Kline did well in a cameo role as the longshoreman McCarthy.

In declining the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1940, awarded for The Time of Your Life, William Saroyan said that "art could not be patronized by wealth". The Human Comedy(1943), a movie based on a William Saroyan story, is another one that I remember. A small farming town in the San Joaquin Delta affected by war. Sixtyfour years later we have small towns in America suffering from losses in another war that is now raging in a far-off land, a war that America was led into by use of deception and lies.

My love affair with San Francisco began long before I arrived in California. Movies that I watched back home left indelible impressions. Among them: Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) and Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). I didn't think then that I would be working in San Francisco, walking and driving on streets that I had watched on screen.

Kindness of Clea Bertani

San Francisco and its people were hospitable to me. I found a job, I found friends, and I discovered the charms of the City. Good restaurants, China Town, small book stores, the aroma of good tobacco at Grant's on Market Street (I used to be a pipe smoker before I started training to run marathons). Bali's Restaurant on Pacific was a favorite. The lamb shanks were superb. Mme Armen Bali had autographed photographs of ballet dancers on the walls. She counted Rudolf Nureyev and other Russian ballet stars among her friends. Peggy Knickerbocker's 1994 article, The Old Stoves of North Beach, is a mouthwatering trip through San Francisco's North Beach.

Clea Bertani is someone I have a special reason to remember. Clea worked for Waterman Steamship Corp. Before coming to America I had sent out about a dozen resumes to companies in the ocean transportation business in San Francisco. Among the few responses was one from Clea Bertani. It was not the usual "regret" letter. Clea wrote that although Waterman didn't have any opening, The Guide, a local trade weekly, was running an ad for an operations assistant that might fit my background and that she had forwarded my application to The Guide. My application included a local address and telephone number. A few weeks after my arrival I received a call from the company that had advertised in The Guide. I followed through and got my first job. Some days later I walked into Waterman's office to thank Clea Bertani. She was warm and friendly just as I thought she would be when I read the letter that she took the time to write to a stranger in another country.



Global Warming - What Evangelical Christians Fear

The report in Washington Post about Mr. Frosty Hardison of Seattle and his battle with the Federal Way School Board is an example of the paranoia of fundamentalists. They will not let anyone or anything rob them from Armageddon. Be prepared for a loud whooshing sound when they go up to heaven. On second thought, the rest of us on earth might not be in a state to hear it.

While President Bush appears to be softening his opposition to global warming, Mr. Hardison stands firm.

Hardison, a parent of seven here in the southern suburbs of Seattle, has
himself roiled the global-warming waters. It happened early this month when
he learned that one of his daughters would be watching "An Inconvenient
Truth" in her seventh-grade science class.

No you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child,
blaming our nation -- the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet --
for global warming," Hardison wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School
Board. The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.

The school board rolled over without much of an argument.

It drew following comments from KC, a friend:

i guess what makes this story sad is that this is not happening in
Backwardscreek, Alabama or Ridiculoso, Kansas; this story is set in
Seattle, for crying out loud. The protagonist is not a gun-toting
moonshine-maker but a software programmer living in one of the bluer
parts of the country.

The inconvenient truth is not that the glaciers are melting, that is
inconvenient only to the stupid people; the inconvenient truth is that
stupidity has no professional or geographical boundaries.

But what I really really dont understand is that if you are someone
who "believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs of Jesus
Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day", then where is the
inconsistency with Gore's film? Isn't the Gore film simply saying that
the end is neigh ? Gore's film predicts global disaster coming off the
evil of mankind; passages in the Book of Revelations, which is the
basis for all the Judgement day hoopla, says there cometh a Judgement
day due to the evil in men's hearts. Where is the inconsistency ?

Gore's film makes the further point that, though late in the game, if
men wanted, they could forestall global distaster. Is Mr.Hardison
afraid men's actions could thwart God's plans ? Hell, the God I
believe in takes no shit from man. He is all powerfull and just an all
round cool dude.

If Mr.Hardison has such little faith in the power of his God over the
will of man, then maybe he should shift his allegiance to mine.

"Bigotry is the sacred disease" -- Heraclitus 6th Century BCE

Saturday, January 27, 2007



Garry Wills' op-ed column "At Ease, Mr. President" in The NY Times brings up an issue that many Americans must have thought about in recent years -- role of the president as the commander-in-chief. Mr. Wills is not alone in his position that ".....the president is not our commander-in-chief". It is especially significant now because of the person who is our president and the abuses conducted by his administration, but regardless of who holds that office we ought to stop considering the president as commander-in-chief.

The New York Times
January 27, 2007

At Ease, Mr. President

Evanston, Ill.

WE hear constantly now about "our commander in chief." The word has become a synonym for "president." It is said that we "elect a commander in chief." It is asked whether this or that candidate is "worthy to be our commander in chief."

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army.

I first cringed at the misuse in 1973, during the "Saturday Night Massacre" (as it was called). President Richard Nixon, angered at the Watergate inquiry being conducted by the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, dispatched his chief of staff, Al Haig, to arrange for Mr. Cox's firing. Mr. Haig told the attorney general, Elliot Richardson, to dismiss Mr. Cox. Mr. Richardson refused, and resigned. Then Mr. Haig told the second in line at the Justice Department, William Ruckelshaus, to fire Cox. Mr. Ruckelshaus refused, and accepted his dismissal. The third in line, Robert Bork, finally did the deed.

What struck me was what Mr. Haig told Mr. Ruckelshaus, "You know what it means when an order comes down from the commander in chief and a member of his team cannot execute it." This was as great a constitutional faux pas as Mr. Haig's later claim, when President Reagan was wounded, that "Constitutionally ... I'm in control."

President Nixon was not Mr. Ruckelshaus's commander in chief. The president is not the commander in chief of civilians. He is not even commander in chief of National Guard troops unless and until they are federalized. The Constitution is clear on this: "The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States."

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, "commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just "commander in chief," or even "commander in chief of the United States." This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken "for the duration." But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and "the duration" has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.

There has never been an executive branch more fetishistic about secrecy than the Bush-Cheney one. The secrecy has been used to throw a veil over detentions, "renditions," suspension of the Geneva Conventions and of habeas corpus, torture and warrantless wiretaps. We hear again the refrain so common in the other wars — If you knew what we know, you would see how justified all our actions are.

But we can never know what they know. We do not have sufficient clearance.

When Adm. William Crowe, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized the gulf war under the first President Bush, Secretary of State James Baker said that the admiral was not qualified to speak on the matter since he no longer had the clearance to read classified reports. If he is not qualified, then no ordinary citizen is. We must simply trust our lords and obey the commander in chief.

The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements. We are reminded, for instance, of the expanded commander in chief status every time a modern president gets off the White House helicopter and returns the salute of marines.

That is an innovation that was begun by Ronald Reagan. Dwight Eisenhower, a real general, knew that the salute is for the uniform, and as president he was not wearing one. An exchange of salutes was out of order. (George Bush came as close as he could to wearing a uniform while president when he landed on the telegenic aircraft carrier in an Air Force flight jacket).

We used to take pride in civilian leadership of the military under the Constitution, a principle that George Washington embraced when he avoided military symbols at Mount Vernon. We are not led — or were not in the past — by caudillos.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's prescient last book, "Secrecy," traced the ever-faster-growing secrecy of our government and said that it strikes at the very essence of democracy — accountability of representatives to the people. How can the people hold their representatives to account if they are denied knowledge of what they are doing? Wartime and war analogies are embraced because these justify the secrecy. The representative is accountable to citizens. Soldiers are accountable to their officer. The dynamics are different, and to blend them is to undermine the basic principles of our Constitution.

Garry Wills, a professor emeritus of history at Northwestern, is the author, most recently, of "What Paul Meant."


Friday, January 26, 2007


Libby Trial Exposes Bungled Coverup of Another Lie

The Fictitious Yellow Cake (Uranium) from Niger

"Scooter" Libby's trial for perjury in the investigation about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame revealed fascinating facts. Former vice presidential aide Cathy Martin's testimony left no doubt that Vice President Cheney was deeply involved in smearing former Ambassador Joseph Wilson because his report, after being sent to investigate Iraq's acquisition of uranium from Niger, proved embarrassing to the Bush Administration. Vice President Cheney micro-managed the efforts to contain the fallout. On the other side of the picture was the division between aides at the White House and the vice president's office.

The Guardian
  • Mr Wilson had been sent to Africa to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger for his nuclear weapons programme. He reported back to the state department and the CIA that the reports were untrue, yet the claim surfaced in George Bush's state of the union speech in January, 2003.

What the President said (after Ambassador Wilson had submitted his report) in his State of the Union address, January 28, 2003:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide."


Ms Martin, currently employed in the White House, knew where the skeletons were buried and she did not hold back.

George Tenet, the Fall Guy. Maybe that explains the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Washington Post

At length, Martin explained how she, Libby and deputy national security adviser Steve Hadley worked late into the night writing a statement to be issued by George Tenet in 2004 in which the CIA boss would take blame for the bogus claim in Bush's State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa.

After "delicate" talks, Tenet agreed to say the CIA "approved" the claim and "I am responsible" -- but even that disappointed Martin, who had wanted Tenet to say that "we did not express any doubt about Niger."

Thursday, January 25, 2007


A Matter of Trust

Have they earned it ?

The Bush Administration ramped up its offensive against critics of its latest plan for the war in Iraq. The leader of attack dogs, Vice President Cheney, came out with harsh words. He is good at that -- harsh words and in painting doomsday scenarios if we raise questions about the war that they got us into. Step back a little. As reported in CNN, this is the same man who on May 31, 2005, said: "...... "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." On that day, dealth toll for American soldiers stood at 1070. The current number is 3064 (Source: Iraq Coalition Casualties); 1994 soldiers lost their lives since the vice president's statement. The man who took five deferments during the Vietnam war drools about Iraq. The warmongers are ignoring the fact that the majority of Americans no longer believes in their war.

Calvin Trillin in The Nation June 16, 2005:

When rockets fly and battle smoke is thick,
It's good to hear from "Four Deferments Dick."
He's always sure. He knows what warfare is--
Enough to know it's not for him or his.
Insurgents somehow, though they're in the throes,
Kill more GIs--but no one Cheney knows.

The "War President"

As the late C.E. Montague, British soldier, author, journalist, said: "War hath no fury like a noncombatant".

President Bush, July 2, 2003: "Bring Them On" (2857 soldiers have died since then).

President Bush, Feb.8, 2004, NBC Meet the Press: "I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign-policy matters with war on my mind. Again, I wish it wasn't true, but it is true. And the American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


President's Smokescreen Blown Away by Jim Webb

Panic in Bushland. What next for the Decider ? He tried -- again -- to sell continuation of his war and the troop surge by talking about threats. The usual suspects, the tried and tested bogies were mentioned. It worked for him in the past. Last night he failed miserably. Funny in a way when you think of President Bush talking about health care and the need for energy conservation. But he did. Desperate times call for desperate means. He was grasping at straws to bail himself out. Not many were fooled. It was Jim Webb, the Democrtatic Senator from Virginia, whose rebuttal made an impact. Rebuttal to the State of the Union speech often fell flat and soon forgotten. Jim Webb will be remembered for his words and for his delivery.

Michael Shear in the Washington Post

The full transcript

From NY Times editorial:

"Speaking into a Void"

We were bluffed and bullied into suporting the war. This time we must not let him get away with it.

Dan Balz in the Post

The State of the President Beleaguered

There were three underlying messages in the president's address. The first was a familiar argument about the terrorist threat and plea for patience on Iraq, a chord struck earlier in the day by Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the expected new commander of U.S. forces there. Although about two in three Americans disagree with the decision to send more troops to Iraq and members of Congress are preparing nonbinding resolutions to declare their opposition, Bush asked for time to show that the strategy can succeed.

He recalled that the country was largely united at the time of the invasion in 2003 and acknowledged the divisions that have emerged since. But he argued that whatever motivated members of Congress at the time of the invasion, there was a consensus that the United States must win the war.

Bush may have been speaking into the void. Over the past six months, there has been a critical turn in public opinion. Long ago, a majority of Americans concluded that the president's decision to go to war was a mistake. The administration tried to shrug that off by focusing attention on the consequences of failure, believing that as long as Americans saw some chance for success they would continue to support the mission.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007


America: "Mission Accomplished" to Troop Surge

May 1, 2003. That was when President Bush appeared on the deck of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Above him, the tower of the carrier displayed a large sign that read "Mission Accomplished". The "Mission" was Iraq. Now, almost 45 months later, as the president's latest strategy for victory by a surge in number of troops is underway, publication of "A BBC International opinion poll" reveals what the world thinks. There is very little in it to make us feel good but we can take consolation from the fact that the opinions are a reflection on the Bush Administration and its policies, not the American people.

View of US's global role 'worse' (BBC)

The view of the US's role in the world has deteriorated both internationally and domestically, a BBC poll suggests.

The World Service survey, conducted in 25 nations including the US, found that three in four respondents disapproved of how Washington had dealt with Iraq.

The majority of the 26,381 respondents also disapproved of the way five other foreign policy areas had been handled.

The poll, released ahead of President Bush's State of the Union speech, was conducted between November and January.

The number of those who said the US was a positive influence in the world fell in 18 nations polled in previous years.

In those countries, 29% of people said the US had a positive influence, down from 36% last year and 40% two years ago.

Across the 25 countries polled, 49% of respondents said the US played a mainly negative role in the world.

In Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines and the US most of those polled said they thought America had a positive role.

But among Americans, the number of those who viewed their country's role positively fell to 57% - six percentage points down from last year and 14 percentage points down from two years ago.

Mid-East role

Respondents were also asked about the Bush administration's handling of six areas of foreign policy:

When asked about US military presence in the Middle East, an average of 68% of respondents across the 25 countries answered that it "provokes more conflict than it prevents".


A second report in the BBC analyses the findings of the poll. 'Listen more' is world's message to US


Monday, January 22, 2007


A Poem that the Warrior President will not Understand


He came at midnight, both legs lopped off,
though his old wounds had long since healed.
He came through the third-story window--
I was struck with wonder at how he got in.
We'd lived though an age of calamity;
many had lost their closest kin.
In streets sown with shredded papers
the orphan survivors were skipping about.

I was frozen as crystal when he came.
He thawed me like pliant wax,
altered me even as the pall of night
turns into the feather of dawn.
His bold spirit translucent as mist
that streams from the morning clouds.

---Dahlia Ravikovitch
(Translated, from the Hebrew, by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld)
©The New Yorker Dec.25,2006 & JAN 1,2007

President Bush will read a speech tomorrow evening. In the past his State of the Union addresses were received with almost manic enthusiasm by Republicans in Congress. They basked in the pomp and circumstances. Props were used by the White House. Ahmed Chalabi, who had played an important role in creating the myth about Saddam Hussein's WMD, was among the honored guests after the invasion began. Then Chalabi fell from grace. Props there will be but things have changed. The president's policy about Iraq no longer enjoys credibility. Worse, by a wide margin Americans consider him as being unable to steer the country in the right direction.

Death toll for soldiers is now at 3055, including 54 in this month. Visit Glenn Kutler's audio commenary (including photo gallery) in Newsweek.

Confidence in Bush Leadership at All-Time Low, Poll Finds
Washington Post

President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday at the weakest point of his presidency, facing deep public dissatisfaction over his Iraq war policies and eroding confidence in his leadership, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

With a major confrontation between Congress and the president brewing over Iraq, Americans overwhelmingly oppose Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to the conflict. By wide margins they prefer that congressional Democrats, who now hold majorities in both chambers, rather than the president, take the lead in setting the direction for the country.

Iraq dominates the national agenda, with 48 percent of Americans calling the war the single most important issue they want Bush and the Congress to deal with this year. No other issue rises out of single digits. The poll also finds that the public trusts congressional Democrats over Bush to deal with the conflict by a margin of 60 percent to 33 percent.


Sunday, January 21, 2007


Bay Area Trails: The Benches at Long Ridge

Rest your Weary Feet; Feast your Eyes

The pleasures of walking on trails include rest stops for picnics. While one can always find a grassy knoll or meadow to enjoy the view with some food and wine, on some trails the benches and picnic tables can take you by surprise. I always feel a sense of gratitude and admiration for those who paid for them and for those who built them.

Long Ridge, one of the trails in the Stevens Creek and Upper Stevens Creek County Parks managed by the County of Santa Clara, has some benches that offer great views. The benches themselves look as if they belong there.

Roderic F. Annable Bench @ Musafir

View, Looking West @Musafir

The Plaque @ Musafir
The Leonard I. Schiff Bench @ Musafir
View, Looking West @ Musafir

The Plaque @ Musafir

"Lover of this land and the stars above", Leonard Schiff served as Chairman of Stanford's Physics Department from 1948 to 1966. He died in 1971. Didn't have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Schiff but the plaque tells me that he was a kindred spirit. Don't think he was a Republican. Hard to think of Republicans as lovers of open space. Yes, there are a few like former Congressman Pete McCloskey and perhaps Tom Campbell. But for every Pete McCloskey one is likely to find a dozen Richard Pombos.

Distant view, Wallace Stegner Bench @ Musafir

Born in Iowa, Wallace Stegner joined Stanford University in 1945 and lived in Los Altos Hills until his death in 1993.

"Stegner's novel Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972, and was directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote (later published as the memoir A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West). Stegner's use of uncredited passages taken directly from Foote's letters caused a minor controversy[2]. Stegner also won the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird in 1977. He refused a National Medal from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992 due to his opposition to the way the NEA had become politicized in the late 1980s." Source: Wikipedia

Close up, Wallace Stegner Bench @ Musafir

Made of rocks, it looks attractive but as I sat on the Stegner bench on a sunny afternoon in January I thought it was cold. Took a while to feel comfortable. In summer the bench would be blazing hot. Perhaps MROSD, which put up the Stegner Bench, wanted it to last for a long time; the wooden benches have a more limited life cycle.

View from Wallace Stegner Bench @ Musafir

The plaque reads:

"...to try to save for everyone, for the hostile and indifferent as well as the committed, some of the health that flows across the green ridges from the Skyline, and some of the beauty and refreshment of spirit that are still available to any resident of the valley who has the moment, and the wit, to lift up his eyes unto the hills."
- Wallace Stegner


Friday, January 19, 2007


Winds of Change - Lobbying Reform

Impressive achievement. Congress passed a reform package that is not quite foolproof but it has teeth, enough teeth to put a crimp in the unhealthy relationship that existed between elected representatives and the lobbying industry. As expected, Republicans tried to lessen the impact by amendments but failed. The strong message from voters in the mid-term elections made them leery of being too aggressive in blocking passage of the legislation.

How things have changed ! It was a year ago on January 18, 2006, that Jeffrey Birnbaum wrote in the Washington Post about the then Speaker Hastert's proposal for lobbyist-friendly reform legislation:

One can say goodbye to all that. The reform legislation passed by Senate is quite different. It is a big step toward transparency and curbing of corrupt practices. Although, in recent years, it was the Republicans who completely sold themselves to special interest groups, some Democrats were willing participants in sharing the freebies.

The Senate legislation, hailed by proponents as the most significant ethics reform since Watergate, would ban gifts, meals and travel funded by lobbyists, and would force lawmakers to attach their names to special-interest provisions and pet projects that they slip into bills. Lawmakers would have to pay charter rates on corporate jets, not the far-cheaper first-class rates they pay now.

The House earlier this month approved similar language as part of an internal rules change. But other portions of the Senate-passed measure would carry the weight of law and would have impacts far beyond the Capitol. The House would have to pass comparable legislation for those provisions to take effect.

One of those legislative provisions would force lobbyists to publicly disclose the small campaign donations they collect from clients and "bundle" into large donations to politicians. Bundling is a way for lobbyists to contribute far more money to candidates and thus wield more influence than they could by making individual contributions, which are currently limited to $2,100 per candidate for each election cycle. Lavish gatherings thrown by lobbyists and corporate interests at party conventions would be banned.

State of the Union

In other news, the great Decider is reported to be polishing up the State of the Union speech that he will read on Tuesday, January 23. It could include initiatives for energy and health care ! The main thrust, of course, will be to promote his latest plan for Iraq, a disaster that he and the necons created and very successfully sold to the nation. But those of you who will follow the telecast are likely to notice something different. I could be wrong but I doubt that the Republicans will bob up and down from their seats like marionettes every time the president ends a sentence. The war has taken its toll. They have lost their enthusiasm for the lies. Their constitutents sent them a strong message last November. They will be restrained in their applause. Old habits,however, die hard. Reflex action ?

A Reality-Based State of the Union

A president who reduces the near-infinite variety of humankind to "with us" or "against us" has mired the nation in a disastrous, unnecessary war. Comparisons to Vietnam are imprecise -- the American casualties in Iraq are lower, the geopolitical stakes are much higher and the damage to our nation's standing in the world has been incalculable.

Some believe that the president sees clearly the futility of his ill-advised war and that at this point he's just stalling so his successor will take the fall for an eventual American withdrawal. Those cynics are wrong; George W. Bush has demonstrated time and again that he values resolve over reason.

The us-or-them president is now assuming an elbows-out posture toward Iran that is disturbingly reminiscent of the run-up to war in Iraq -- denunciations, threats, a military buildup in the Persian Gulf. Haven't we seen this movie before?


Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Condoleezza Rice's Mission to Middle-East

Weiji, "Cris-atunity" and Iraq

Glenn Kessler's report from Riyadh in the Washington Post contains interesting nuggets about opinions held by Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, an influential voice in the Arab world. Secretary Rice threw in a comment about weiji, the Chinese term for crisis but an article in NY Times tells us that she was wrong.

What Secretary Rice said:
"I don't read Chinese but I am told that the Chinese character for crisis is weiji, which means both danger and opportunity," Rice said. "And I think that states it very well. We'll try to maximize the opportunity."

Rice did not say where she learned this aphorism but oddly enough it was once featured on "The Simpsons," as this excerpt from an episode shows:

Lisa: "Look on the bright side, Dad. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity'?"

Homer: "Yes! Cris-atunity."

From New York Times, Reading File: December 18, 2005

By Any Other Name

On pinyin.info, a Web site about the Chinese language, Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, explodes the myth that "crisis," in Chinese means both "danger" and "opportunity."

A whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate formulation. A casual search of the Web turns up more than a million references to this spurious proverb. It appears, ... often complete with Chinese characters, on the covers of books, on advertisements for seminars, on expensive courses for "thinking outside of the box" and practically everywhere one turns in the world of quick-buck business, pop psychology, and orientalist hocus-pocus. ...

Like most Mandarin words, that for "crisis" (weiji) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wei and ji. The ji of weiji, in fact, means something like "incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes)." Thus, a weiji is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A weiji indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits. In a crisis, one wants above all to save one's skin and neck!

Washington Post

Regarding Bush's plan, Saud was distinctly tepid. He said that he supports "the objectives" of the plan -- i.e., an end to violence and a stable government -- but he made no mention of the specific details. Indeed, when questioned on whether he supports the details, Saud shrugged off the question. Reporters knew that Rice, who arrived in Riyadh at 8 p.m. on Monday, had stayed up until 2:30 a.m. in a visit to the king's hunting camp. She then also had morning meetings. But Saud said there was not enough time to discuss the details of a plan that Bush had outlined in a 20-minute speech.

Then, Saud unexpectedly allowed another round of questions. Asked what he would do if Bush's plan does not succeed, Saud skillfully sounded a positive note -- "why speculate on such dire consequences?" -- while offering a devastating description of the situation in Iraq.

"Why not speculate on the positive side that everybody will come together and hopefully move out of the morass that exists in Iraq which serves nobody -- Shiites or Sunnis or Turkmen or Kurds. It serves no one," Saud said. "It serves no neighboring country, no regional power and no international power."


Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Kirkuk, the Next Killing Zone in Iraq ?

Numbing. Explosions in Baghdad resulted in deaths of 80 or more people today. Most of the casualties took place near al-Mustansriya university, a Shia neighborhood. Retaliatory attacks cannot be too long in coming.

35,000 civilian deaths in 2006

The Guardian reports that according to the UN, Kirkuk in Northern Iraq is facing imminent outbreak of violence that could make it another Baghdad. This time the Kurds are responsible for atrocities against ethnic minorities. Kurdish Peshmerga forces are a part of the President Bush's strategy to quell violence in Baghdad. Talk about strange bedfellows and winning hearts and minds!

UN warns of looming crisis in Kirkuk

Mark Tran
Tuesday January 16, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

The deteriorating human rights situation in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq could be a prelude to a looming crisis in the Kurdish region, the UN warned today.

In its bi-monthly human rights report on Iraq, the UN voiced concerns at reports of mistreatment of ethnic Turkmen and Arabs by the Kurdish majority.

"They face increasing threats, intimidations and detentions, often in KRG (Kurdish regional government) facilities run by Kurdish intelligence and security forces," the report said. "Such violations may well be the prelude of a looming crisis in Kirkuk in the coming months."

While media attention has focused on Baghdad, which accounts for most of Iraq's bloodletting, Kirkuk could be lurching towards its own mini-crisis.

Kirkuk, an ancient city once part of the Ottoman empire, has a large minority of ethnic Turks as well as Christians, Shias and Sunnis, Armenians and Assyrians. The city lies just south of the autonomous Kurdish region stretching across Iraq's north-east.

Under Iraq's new constitution, a local referendum is to be held this year to determine whether Kirkuk should join the Kurdistan regional confederacy (the united administration of Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya provinces). Because of its oil wealth, the Kurds covet the city and want it to become their regional capital.

It is a prospect that horrifies Turkey, which fears that a strong Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq with Kirkuk's oil wealth would galvanise separatist Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey who have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy.

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today warned Iraqi Kurdish groups against trying to seize control of Kirkuk. He said Turkey would not stand by amid growing ethnic tensions, prompting accusations of interference by Iraqi Kurds.

The Kurdish coalition bloc in the Iraqi parliament today read a statement during a session accusing Turkey of interfering in Iraqi affairs. "As we condemn this interference in Iraqi affairs by the Turkish government, we call upon the parliament to issue a statement condemning them as well," the coalition bloc said.

But Mr Erdogan this week reminded the Kurds that Turkey sheltered more than 500,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees who escaped Iraq's ruthless campaign following a failed Kurdish insurgency in early 1991.

"Turkey did not remain indifferent to the plight of Kurdish peshmergas who were escaping oppression and death," he said. "Today, it will not remain indifferent to the Turkmens, Arabs ... in Kirkuk."

Military intervention by Turkey, a Nato ally of the US in northern Iraq, is unlikely, but Ankara could apply economic pressure as potential oil exports from Kirkuk have to go overland through Turkey.

Today's UN report said Kirkuk is heavily controlled by security forces and Kurdish militias - or peshmergas - who exercise to a large degree effective control of the city. Most senior official positions are occupied by Kurds or their allies from other ethnic groups.

Under Saddam Hussein, Baghdad imposed an "Arabisation" policy on Kirkuk, a massive social engineering project that drove many Kurds from their homes to be replaced by Arabs, mostly Shias from the south. Since the US invasion of 2003, many Kurds have returned and Turkmen and Arabs in the city now complain of reverse "ethnic cleansing".

"Even though violence is not on the same level as in Baghdad," the UN said, "ongoing human rights violations and the surge of violent acts which have significantly increased since 2003 are widely believed to be the doing of perpetrators and instigators from inside and outside Iraq and Kirkuk. Lately and due to the continuing insecurity, ethnic groups have moved closer to their own communities for protection."

With tension rising in Kirkuk, the referendum is shaping up to be a key moment for the Kurdish region. The Iraq Study Group, chaired by former secretary of state James Baker, warned last month in its report of the "great risk" of the referendum sparking further violence in Kirkuk and recommended postponing it for a year.

The Kurds would hardly welcome any such delay and might well annex the city precipitating a crisis with Turkey.


Sunday, January 14, 2007


Darkness at Noon - Attack on Civil Liberties

'L'etat, C'est Moi'

The president and his pet war continue to dominate the media. After failing miserably to question and probe claims by the Bush Administration before and after the launching of Operation Iraqi Freedom, reports in both print and broadcast media indicate that the days of rolling over for the spinmeisters from White House are past. It is hard to find much support for troop surge but the Decider is charging ahead. Behind the scenes, his administration is continuing to take actions that are reminiscent of the former Soviet Russia under Stalin. Not known whether President Bush is aware of the Sun King but he would have no problem with the statement made by Louis XIV of France "L'Etat, C'est Moi" (I am the State).

Dahlia Lithwick in the Post:

The Imperial Presidency

And why is President Bush still issuing grandiose and provocative signing statements, the latest of which claims that the executive branch has the power to open mail when it sees fit?

I once believed that the common thread here is presidential blindness -- an extreme executive-branch myopia that leads the chief executive to believe that these futile measures are integral to combating terrorism; a self-delusion that precludes Bush and his advisers from recognizing that Padilla is a chump and Guantanamo Bay is just a holding pen for a jumble of innocent or half-guilty wretches.

But it has finally become clear that the goal of these efforts isn't to win the war against terrorism; indeed, nothing about Padilla, Guantanamo Bay or signing statements moves the country an inch closer to eradicating terrorism. The object is a larger one: expanding executive power, for its own sake.

Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post:

Under then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon expanded its collection of intelligence within the borders of the United States -- a development that stirred concern among members of Congress and prompted stern criticism and lawsuits from civil liberties advocates.

These efforts are overseen by the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity agency, or CIFA, which was established in September 2002 by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.

CIFA is charged with coordinating policy and overseeing the domestic counterintelligence activities of Pentagon agencies and the armed forces. The agency's size and budget are classified, but congressional sources have said that the agency spent more than $1 billion through October. One counterintelligence official recently estimated that CIFA has 400 full-time employees and 800 to 900 contractors working for it.

In written responses to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing last month, Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert M. Gates, pledged to look "in greater detail" at CIFA's activities.

The agency was criticized in December 2005 after it was revealed that a database managed by CIFA, called TALON, contained unverified, raw threat information about people who were peacefully protesting the Iraq war at defense facilities, including recruiting offices. In August, CIFA Director David A. Burtt II and his top deputy, Joseph Hefferon, resigned in the wake of a scandal involving CIFA contracts that went to MZM Inc., a company run by Mitchell J. Wade. Wade pleaded guilty last February to conspiring to bribe then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif).

What lies ahead? If the opposition to troop surge by Democrats and some Republican members of Congress holds then then there is something to hope for. Even a nonbinding resolution cannot fail to have an impact on the warmongers.

Opposition to Iraq Plan Leaves Bush Isolated

The White House has downscaled its goals and is playing for time. Advisers resign themselves to a nonbinding congressional resolution condemning the troop increase but want to avoid many Republicans voting for it. Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who lost reelection, called Bush's plan "a step in the right direction" and said Republicans do not want to walk away from Iraq but are "in full political survival mode" now. "It's very hard, particularly if you're on the ballot in two years, to run on the side of the president on anything to do with the war."

The more serious threat to the White House would be a Democratic attempt to restrict funds for more troops. Bush aides said that current funds are enough to get started, and they are counting on the notion that it will take two months until the supplemental appropriation bill providing more war funds comes to a vote. By then, they said, extra troops will be on the ground and it will be too late for Congress to stop them. And they hope for signs of progress that would let them argue that the plan is working.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Last Stand at the Potomac

Bush's last stand. The Potomac will continue to flow after the presidency of George Walker Bush, aka Dubya, aka the Decider, is over and the legacy of the present occupier of the White House will continue to haunt us for a long time. The damage he has wrought will take decades to repair.

As expected, the warrior president submitted his case for troop surge. It will take a few days to assess the impact of his move. Indications are that it will not receive support from a substantial majority of Americans. The Democrats are finally showing signs of courage by taking a stand against the president's plan. If they stick with it the president will not find it easy to get his way as he did in the past by spreading fear and talking about patriotism.

Among the many comments in print media, this one from The Guardian, UK, stands out:

Defiance and delusion

Thursday January 11, 2007
The Guardian

George Bush's announcement last night that he is going to pour more troops into Iraq was the last throw of the dice in a misconceived enterprise that has dragged his country, this country and the Middle East into a nightmare. The package includes 17,500 more combat troops for Baghdad and 4,000 more marines for Anbar province, the cockpit of the Sunni insurgency. Over $1bn will be spent in economic aid. In return the Iraqis are to promise to crackdown on insurgents, regardless of sect or religion.

In opting for a troop surge, Mr Bush has ignored the message of the mid-term elections, the Iraq Study Group, Congress, his own top generals and most world opinion. US generals have difficulty enough maintaining current levels of combat-ready troops and are not convinced that more troops will make any difference. Rather than listen to them, Mr Bush has turned to the right, to those who argue that honour and the America's national interests require fighting on. One senses that "honour" is the more important of the two.

Back on Earth - where on Tuesday 1,000 American and Iraqi troops were battling Sunni insurgents with helicopters and warplanes for the control of a three-mile stretch of road running through the centre of Baghdad - any plan for Iraq is predicated on the ability of Nouri al-Maliki's government to disarm the Shia militias. Only then can the police force and army be rebuilt, Sunnis included in a settlement and control re-established over wide areas of the country. The task of regaining Iraq is no longer just about containing an insurgency; it is about staunching the flames of a civil war.

Thus far, al-Maliki's record has not been good. He has been unable or unwilling to confront the main Shia warlord, Moqtada al-Sadr, on whom he depends for parliamentary support. His government cannot fight sectarianism, if entire ministries are working for the Shia militias. This was demonstrated by the execution of Saddam Hussein. On Tuesday alone, 40 bodies were found in Baghdad, the presumed work of the death squads.

Back at home, the president is almost alone. Only senator John McCain, the leading Republican candidate to replace Mr Bush, and Joe Lieberman, on the right of the Democrats, support his plan. Queuing up to oppose him, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and senator Edward Kennedy have all said that they intend to hold symbolic votes on the plan. They cannot overrule a decision by the commander-in-chief, but they can isolate him. There could be as many as 10 Republican defections in the Senate. The Democrats have turned up the volume of their moral outrage, presumably because they think Mr Bush will not be able to hold the line with the latest announcement. In most people's minds, the argument for withdrawal, however gradual, has already been won. The only issue that remains is how quickly it happens.

Tony Blair was also having difficulty in the commons yesterday, with Sir Menzies Campbell pressing him on whether Britain will mirror Mr Bush's deepening of engagement. Mr Blair maintained that Basra was in a bubble of its own, unaffected by the troubles that beset Baghdad. He said that once the current operation against militia infiltration of the Basra police was complete, Iraqis would take over control over their own affairs.

The claim peace is returning to Basra is as unreal as Mr Bush's hope that order can be brought to Baghdad. Surrounded by the wreckage of the disaster they created, both men still hope, against all reality, that somehow the pieces can be put back together again. But their project is dead. A few more troops, or a few more months, will not restore it. Both men are on their way out. By stringing the war along without admitting defeat, it will become the business of another British prime minister and another American president to end it.

Also see "Mr. Bush's Strategy", Washington Post.

Addendum: January 11, 2007 Washington Post-ABC News Poll "Poll: Most Americans Opposed to Bush's Iraq Plan
Majority of Those Surveyed Are Skeptical That Surge Would Make Victory More Likely"


From "Bring Them On" to Troop Surge: 2810 Dead

Sons, brothers, sisters, husbands, friends and lovers

July 2, 2003 -- that was when President Bush issued his challenge to Iraqi insurgents "Bring them on". They did; they certainly did. Latest figure from Iraq Coalition Casualties is 3017. That means 2810 American soldiers have died after the president's bluster.

Richard Cohen in the Post compares the president's support of death penalty with his position on Iraq: "

Irrational is as Irrational does

I bring up Bush's appalling record of executions not because I have once again mounted my anti-capital-punishment hobbyhorse but because his record offers an insight into why the United States will stay in Iraq and with even more troops than before.

Let me explain. In Iowa, during the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush answered a question about why he so ardently supported capital punishment. He offered a number of reasons, but one -- deterrence -- prompted me to raise my hand and ask a follow-up: But, sir, there is absolutely no evidence that capital punishment is a deterrent. To my astonishment, Bush conceded my point: "You're right. I can't prove it. But neither can the other side prove it's not."

Ponder that answer for a while. What it means is not just that Bush embraced a famously irrational way of thinking -- the logical fallacy often called "proving a negative" -- but in this case he used it to overwhelm all evidence to the contrary. Once you know this, you can appreciate what Bush means when he calls himself The Decider. It means that evidence, arguments, proof and logic cannot be conclusive when, as is often the case, the president proceeds on what can be called a matter of faith. I am not referring here just to religion -- although surely that is paramount to Bush -- but to supremely secular matters of state: when to go to war, why go to war and when to remain at war. In Bush's mind, the bad guys will lose and the good guys will win and Iraq will become a democracy. This will happen not because Bush can prove that it will but because nobody can prove it won't.

Across the Atlantic, Steve Bell of The Guardian, expressed his view in a cartoon.

© Steve Bell 2006 - Guardian Co.UK

Sally Quinn wrote in the Post about her memory of soldiers wounded in the Korean war.

The soldiers in the litters above and below me both died, blood dripping from their wounds. Many other soldiers died while we were in the air. We had to stop in Hawaii overnight to refuel and to leave the bodies.

I hope that when President Bush discusses sending more troops to Iraq, knowing that we will have to pull out sooner rather than later, that the conversation comes around to the human suffering. Does anyone at the table ask about the personal anguish, the long-term effects, emotional, psychological and financial, on the families of those killed, wounded or permanently disabled?

When I hear about the surge, all I can think of is those young soldiers on the plane to Texas. We have already lost more than 3,000 soldiers, and many more have been wounded and disabled.

We have three choices here. All three are immoral. We can keep the status quo and gradually pull out; we can surge; or we can pull out now. When I think about those young soldiers on that plane coming back from Japan years ago, I believe pulling out now is the least immoral choice.

Link: Glenn Kutler's audio report in Newsweek

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Blogroll Me!